As Windows software vulnerabilities have gradually decreased in the wake of Microsoft's secure development lifecycle approach to writing code, the bad guys have been forced to raise the bar and get more creative. Enter ransomware, a nasty form of malware that not only infects your machine but also locks you out of it -- and in many cases, encrypts the data so you can't retrieve it.
The most infamous of these malware families is CryptoLocker, which uses a strong encryption algorithm to lock a victim's files on local drives and network shares. Some victims have paid $300 or more to get their data decrypted and returned to them -- but even paying ransom doesn't guarantee you'll get your data back, or that the bad guys don't still sell it for profit.
[A Black Hat USA speaker will give the backstory on how he and others helped disrupt the infamous CyptoLocker operation, and what they learned about it. Read How Researchers Helped Cripple CryptoLocker.]
But CryptoLocker's head was lopped off in early June after a massive global initiative by the FBI, international law enforcement agencies, and security firms, which seized its key command and control servers. CryptoLocker remains out of action at this point, but there are plenty of other ransomware families circulating and waiting in the wings to fill the void. One such family, Cryptowall, is being blamed for a recent breach at brokerage house Benjamin F. Edwards & Co.
"Ransomware, because of its high-margin profits and the rather simple chain of people that need to be involved, will likely surge in the near-term for PC users," says John Bambenek, chief forensic examiner at Bambenek Consulting and a ransomware expert. "Unlike typical credit card fraud and the like that require money mules, reshippers, and card cloners… all you need to make money with ransomware is a tool and access to Bitcoin or a means to cash in moneypak or similar cards. The trick is a good delivery mechanism."
Here's a look at the top ransomware threats to watch out for: